January 31, 2020

Nehemiah 4:16-18

16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.


Every new parent learns the skill of performing tasks with one hand while holding a baby in the other. I’m no expert, but I’ve seen people execute extraordinary feats of dexterity while holding a baby. Unloading groceries, washing the dishes, fixing the car, even picking up another baby while holding a baby.

That’s kind of what the Jews are doing in this passage. Despite their earlier discouragement, they’ve returned to the task of building the wall. But half of their focus is spent on being prepared for an attack. Everyone has a sword. Half the men are on guard while the other half work. Some of the laborers are actually working one handed so they can hold a weapon. That’s got to impact productivityjust like holding a baby makes it harder to balance a checking account. If we just look at the amount of wall building going on, the Jews have experienced a major setback. 

But, going back to our metaphor of a new parent, do we judge them on their ability to load the dishwasher or mow the lawn while holding that child? No! We marvel at their ability to multitask. Beyond that, we marvel at the new identity they are forgingas parent and provider. As caretaker and guide. Let’s look at the Jews from a similar perspective. While it’s true that they are building the wall slower, something deeper and more important is happening. A new identity is growing. They have something worth fighting for. They are warriors. We see the Jews begin to become something newself assured, skilled, accomplished. And that’s in spite of the progress on the wall slowing.

Now let’s look at ourselves. We can get frustrated by inefficiency if we get stuck believing that we are merely what we are able to accomplish. But God’s plan is for all of us to labor one handed: one hand to the task, the other to our identity. Today, let’s pray for God to help us take one hand off of our task and put it towards who we are meant to be in this world. One helpful way to think about it is to ask, what do you wish you were “more” of? More patient. More kind. More relaxed. More confident. More sure. Then ask God how he wants you to stretch in that direction. Commit to acting out of your new identity today.

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